Opinion

A Hate-Crime Fighter for the Justice Department

Like most Americans, we watched in horror on Jan. 6 as white supremacists violently attacked the U.S. Capitol. We recognized their hate because we’ve both painfully experienced it.

Given the alarming increase of hate crimes in America, we were grateful to see the House once again introduce the bipartisan Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act last week. The bill will address the underreporting of hate crimes and help the police respond more effectively to them. Congress should immediately pass this bill and send it to President Joe Biden. But it must do more than that: The Senate must also confirm Kristen Clarke to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

For us, the rise in hate crimes is deeply personal. The sickening attack on Jan. 6 reminded us of the trauma we have both endured. Susan is the mother of Heather Heyer, the young woman murdered by a neo-Nazi who accelerated a car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. Heather’s name is on the legislation Congress should enact. Taylor was the first Black woman to be elected American University’s student body president; she became the target of a racially motivated hate crime and terrifying online “troll storm” orchestrated by neo-Nazis. Taylor fought back through a lawsuit that revolutionized how online hate can be defeated.

We were both proud to see Congress go back to work right after the Capitol attack to certify the election, and for Biden to stand onstage the next morning, just hours after the attack, and nominate Merrick Garland as attorney general and Kristen Clarke to head the Civil Rights Division. Garland has already hit the ground running. But Clarke will also be critical to the department’s success.

We support her confirmation to be the first woman to head the Civil Rights Division in its nearly six decades of existence. As the division is dedicated to advancing the civil rights of all, it is not lost on us that Clarke would also become the first Black woman to be confirmed to this position. At a time when many have just been awakened to racial justice and inequity in our legal system, this is what Kristen Clarke has been doing her entire life.

A career public servant, civil rights litigator and leader, Clarke now heads the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which coordinates hundreds of lawyers across the country in donating their services to defend people’s rights. She served as a staff attorney and a federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice during the George W. Bush administration, prosecuting cases of human trafficking, sexual assault and hate crimes; she did historic voting rights work at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and she ran the Civil Rights Bureau in New York state, defending religious freedoms, gender equity in the workplace, fair housing laws and rights for people with disabilities. But importantly to both of us — a Black woman who faced vicious racism on campus and then a tsunami of hate online, and a white woman who was awakened by her daughter’s sense of justice and then jolted into action by her murder – Kristen Clarke has dedicated her career to fighting racism and hate. And she’s also lived with its weight.

Clarke grew up in federally subsidized housing in the 1970s and 1980s as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. She saw the impact of a public school system that in practice still segregated its poorest students away from its richest. Once she discovered the law and its power to protect people, she never wavered in her commitment or compromised her values for a paycheck. She is the fighter we need at this moment.

We speak up because we are the survivors. We are the voices for the voiceless. We are disgusted by the white supremacy and anti-Semitism in Charlottesville that resulted in Heather’s death. We abhor the anti-Blackness that continues to fuel the senseless killings of unarmed Black folks and perpetuated the discrimination that Taylor experienced. We detest the xenophobia that resulted in the 2019 El Paso mass shooting and the 2016 killing of Khalid Jabara, a Lebanese-American. We are sickened by the anti-Asian violence that we see across the country. We need allies in government like Garland and Clarke, who get what we’ve gone through, will work to restore the rule of law to this country, and spend every day fighting for equal justice for all.

 

Susan Bro started The Heather Heyer Foundation to support the education and empowerment of individuals passionate about positive social change. Taylor Dumpson sued and won against a neo-Nazi hate site and its leader who led a “troll storm” attack on her; she is now studying civil rights law.

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